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Simon Upton – Photographer

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I first came across Simon at the Australian Institute of Sport when I was there on a swimming training camp as a young teenager. Who knew that out professional paths would cross again 15 or so years later, this time with Simon as a fashion photographer and myself as an art director/producer.

Simon was accepted into the Australian Institute of Sport at the age of 16 and spent the years 1984-1992 representing Australia at swimming, where he went on to achieve great success both in Australia and at many competitions around the world. This career culminated in his participation at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, Korea.

Towards the end of his swimming career Simon developed a passion for photography, which took him again overseas, firstly Europe, were he began working as a photographic assistant in several countries.

By 1996 Simon had moved to New York where he gained professional work with American and European magazines. After 5 years and several notable commissions, he moved back to Sydney directly after the events of September 11.

I’ve shot with Simon a few times over the years on advertising jobs for brands such as Gallaz, Dotti, Jeans West and Flamingo Sands… His work speaks for itself. Simon has a great eye for detail and also happens to be a relaxed, great guy who loves to surf, fish and travel in his spare time. He’s also a great dad to his boy’s.

In the last 10 years Simon has established himself as one of Australia and Asia’s top fashion and portrait photographers – his work featuring in leading magazines and advertising campaigns for BONDS, DAVENPORT, LOVABLE, MYER, JOCKEY, RIP CURL, OMEGA, JUST JEANS, PANTENE, L’ORÉAL, NIKON and other global brands.

Simon is known for his local and international celebrity portraiture – having photographed Christy Turlington, Renee Zellweger, Cate Blanchett, Milla Jovavich, Cindy Crawford, Eva Longoria, Fergie, Hayden Christensen, Naomi Watts and many other instantly recognisable faces.

Check out some of Simon’s latest work at simonuptonfoto.com or follow him on instagram @simonuptonpics

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Q & A:

1) At what age did you start as a professional photographer/did you always want to be a photographer/what do you think you would you be doing if you weren’t a photographer?

At 24 I started assisting a few well know photographers in Amsterdam, but had begun doing a few tests with a local model agency; I probably only assisted over a 1 year period, as was keen to begin my own work.

2) Did you study photography/or just learn on the job/teach yourself? Who were some of your greatest creative influences during this time?

I never studied it, though in high school I had a group of friends who were all pretty into it. I never really had creative influences in this early phase of my career, I was a young Australian in Europe, so everything I did inspired me, even though I had traveled already extensively as a competitive swimmer since the age of 14, having the freedom was something that was completely new, and this new found career path that seemed so fun and enjoyable. I love taking pictures, always have.

3) How would you describe your particular creative style, and do you feel it has changed over the years as you’ve grown as an artist?

My style of pictures has developed constantly and only the last few years I feel I have my distinctive look. My shoots are very non-stressful, I like everyone to have a good day, and show what they can do. I really think the collaboration is important, so getting a good team of people together for a job the key. I think you never stop learning about light and understanding it, and where the best light is is the key to my pictures. If you haven’t got it the picture won’t work.

4) What is your favorite subject matter to shoot? Do you have an all time favorite photo that you’ve shot? If so – what is it of/is there a story behind it?

I do enjoy working with celebrity’s. I find it a bit more challenging. These shoots are not just about how you work but also how you manage and communicate with people and in most instances in a very short time frame. This condensed, almost pressure cooker type atmosphere I sort of thrive in. Once you gain the trust then you are able to get that relaxed feel in your images, you are able to create images that are seen in some cases globally and garner much attention.

5) What do you love most about your job? What are the biggest challenges for you as a photographer?

I love everything about my job. There’s nothing I don’t like. An issue for me of late though has become the archiving of imagery. I’ve spent so much time compiling all my imagery of the years into a situation where I know where everything is and can be accessed. I’m probably 1/4 of where I’d like to be. Certainly the freedom of being a freelance photographer is something very important as it gives me very importantly the time with my family and in particular my 2 sons. The biggest challenge as a photographer is being able to stay at a top level. I’ve had to make plenty of decisions which I’ve felt have played a big part in this. You are only remembered by your last shoot, so everything you put out there needs to have your signature on it.

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6) You’ve just finished work on your first book… How did this inspiration come about? How long did this project take? When and where and will it be available to buy? Is this the start of many books to come?

I just finished my 1st book which will be launched in Feb 2014. It’s a photographic book on the Australian RODEO scene, all shot reportage at some of the most iconic country rodeos in SA/VIC/QLD and NSW. I had been looking at doing a book for sometime, and when on a shoot in Narrandera in outback NSW I noticed at the pub one night all these crazy images of cowboys riding bulls. I got talking to the locals and they suggested I come back to check out there RODEO. Once I had been it was obvious this was what I’d been looking to do. It has been a lot of fun and I’ve met some great people along the way. I love this country and the more I see the more I want to explore. The people are what struck me the most, as the realness and down to earth nature of all the people I met really struck a chord with me. It will be sold online (details to come), as well as in some select book stores. It’s called TOUGH STOCK. I’d certainly like to think its the 1st of many. I mean I travel constantly and have a library of many different places/cultures and topics.

7) You’ve worked with many celebrities / amazing models over the years – who have been some of the more interesting that you’ve shot?

They have all been interesting. The people I have worked with and all very different. For me working with Cindy Crawford who I have worked with quite a few times now is always fun, as she trusts me so I can therefore present to her ideas such as the lady vs. vamp shoot I did. Working with someone who is so professional and good at what they do is inspiring and models these days cannot move and act the way those big names from the 80-’s do, which I guess is why so much of the imagery around the Linda/Christy/Naomi period is timeless.

8) As a creative person – who and what inspires you?

For me light inspires me. Being at the right place and time of day and seeing the imagery that happens so effortlessly. We all experience it, I just get to capture people in it with a camera. My kids are my biggest inspiration apart from that.

9) You’ve shot all around the world … What has been the best location you’ve shot at over the years?

Too many to name… Seychelles a definite, Africa for its scenery and wildlife, Rio de Janeiro for its vibe. But for me my fave location is BROOME, Western Australia. Such an amazing place and had some really special times there on holiday with my family through an indigenous elder who has become a good friend and has shown me many amazing things and shared a big part of there culture. It really is something we are special to have in Australia.

10) What next – any other interesting projects you’d like to plug/mention/tips for young punters!?

Right now I am working quite a lot with HARPERS BAZAAR. After several years away it’s finally great to be back shooting great fashion pictures. I’m constantly on the move and have good projects happening almost weekly. The MODEL CO advertising I just shot with Rosie HUNTINGTON-WHITELEY has just come out that we shot at Hayman Island and my new BAZAAR COVER of ANTM winner Melissa Juratowitchh came out today. Apart from that I am about to leave on a 17 day surf trip (been on one every year for 10 years) through Sumatra with 8 old mates. A break I feel invigorates my soul and keeps me fresh.